By HOWARD FENDRICH
WASHINGTON — Wasn’t all that long ago — in 2008 and 2009, actually — that the Washington Nationals were losing 100 games a season and finishing with the worst record in the majors.
Look at them now.
Already the NL East champions, the Nationals closed the regular season by securing home-field advantage throughout the postseason, beating the Philadelphia Phillies 5-1 Wednesday for their majors-high 98th victory.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “Obviously winning the division was a goal and now we’ve done that and we have a chance to go do some stuff in the playoffs. This is a great season, a great team, a good group of guys, and we accomplished a lot that we should be proud of.”
He continued: “But we have a lot more to accomplish, hopefully.”
Fitted for hats with postseason patches before the game, the Nationals will open the playoffs on the road Sunday at the winner of Friday’s wild-card game between Atlanta and St. Louis. Game 2 will also be at the wild-card winner’s stadium, before the best-of-five series shifts to Washington. A team from the nation’s capital hasn’t participated in Major League Baseball action beyond the regular season since the Senators lost the 1933 World Series.
The only downer Wednesday for the Nationals: Manager Davey Johnson missed the end of the game after feeling numbness in his left leg, leaving the dugout to get X-rays and treatment from a team doctor. Johnson — at 69, the oldest skipper in the majors — said he does not expect to have any trouble traveling or managing in the playoffs.
Asked his level of concern about Johnson, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo replied: “None.”
Otherwise, it was a festive day for the announced crowd of 37,075 and the Nationals (98-64), a club that only once had finished as high as third place since moving from Montreal in 2005. This is the first time the Expos/Nationals franchise has won its division in a complete season.
Zimmerman hit his 25th homer of the season moments after the Teddy Roosevelt mascot won the fourth-inning Presidents Race at Nationals Park for the first time. Edwin Jackson (10-11) threw 6 2-3 innings to become the fifth member of the rotation with at least 10 wins. Rookie Tyler Moore’s 10th homer made him the seven player with at least that many.
“I like where we’re sitting headed into the postseason,” left fielder Jayson Werth said.
He signed with Washington as a $126 million free agent before last season, leaving a Philadelphia club he helped win the 2008 World Series. This year’s Phillies finished third in the NL East at 81-81, ending a streak of nine consecutive winning seasons and five playoff appearances in a row.
After the game, the Phillies announced they fired first base coach Sam Perlozzo, bench coach Pete Mackanin and hitting coach Greg Gross. Expect more switches to come.
“We’re definitely going to have some changes on our roster,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “How many or what, I don’t really know.”
His shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, praised the Nationals as “a talented team,” but added that if the Phillies had been healthy this season, Washington would have been no better than a second-place club.
Rollins sat out Wednesday, when Jackson gave up one run and six hits and left to a standing ovation, one of several on a muggy afternoon with the temperature in the 70s.
“At this point, it’s fun facts for the organization,” Jackson said about the team’s win total. “But at this point, in the postseason, if you lose out, all that gets washed away.”
Teddy’s triumph ended a losing streak that drew attention even from the White House press secretary and Sen. John McCain. Teddy had lost more than 500 times since 2006, when the Nationals began holding races among 10-foot-tall foam renderings of Roosevelt, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln at home games.
Zimmerman then led off the bottom of the fourth with a solo shot, Washington’s first scoring off Cliff Lee (6-9).
Asked whether he’d been inspired by the outcome of the mascot race, Zimmerman rolled his eyes.
“I am so glad Teddy won, so we can stop talking about Teddy. People get more excited for a mascot race than a game,” Zimmerman said, before adding in a voice drenched with sarcasm: “Yes, I’m excited Teddy won. I’m ecstatic.”
The next hitter, Michael Morse, doubled and eventually scored. In the eighth, Morse added his 18th homer, a two-run shot off reliever Jonathan Papelbon that drew a curtain call. Morse got treatment after the game for a sore left hamstring, which bothered him on his home run trot.
Lee, who finished with a losing record for the first time since 2007, departed after the sixth. He allowed eight hits and three runs, didn’t walk a batter and struck out seven.
In the eighth, Papelbon lost control of a breaking pitch that buzzed near Zimmerman’s head, drawing boos from the stands. Papelbon wound up walking Zimmerman, who tipped his cap in reaction to loud cheers as he walked to the dugout, replaced on first base by pinch-runner Bryce Harper. Morse followed with a drive to right-center.
The 19-year-old Harper and first baseman Adam LaRoche were out of the starting lineup — a chance to get a breather before the grind of the postseason begins.
“There’s no point to go out there and try to do a little extra, try to play a little harder. For whatever reason in baseball, that has a tendency to work in reverse,” LaRoche said. “What we’ve done up to this point has obviously been good enough.”
BRAVES 4, PIRATES 0
PITTSBURGH — Jason Heyward singled twice and scored two runs for Atlanta in the regular-season finale.
Chipper Jones added a pinch-hit single in his final regular-season at-bat for Atlanta, which hosts St. Louis in the wild-card playoff on Friday.
Luis Avilan (1-0) won on a day the Braves used eight pitchers to hold Pittsburgh to four hits. Ben Sheets started and pitched one scoreless inning in his last major league appearance.
A.J. Burnett (16-10) gave up four runs in 5 2-3 innings for Pittsburgh. The Pirates finished 79-83, extending their record streak of losing seasons to 20.
The switch-hitting Jones, who was hitting left-handed, slapped the first pitch he saw to right field for a single in the sixth, the 2,726th and final hit of his career. Jones scored on a single by Brian McCann that put Atlanta up 3-0.
CUBS 5, ASTROS 4
CHICAGO — Houston ended its National League tenure with a result that’s become familiar: a loss.
The Astros set a franchise record for losses in a season, finishing 55-107, one more loss than last year. The Astros split the final 30 games of the season, winning five of their final seven.
Bryan LaHair homered and hit a game-winning single in the ninth inning for Chicago.
In the first series between 100-game losers in the major leagues since 1962, LaHair homered in the second and broke a 4-all tie against Hector Ambriz (1-1).
The Astros became the first team with 106 or more losses in consecutive seasons since the 1964-65 New York Mets.
Houston finished its NL tenure with 3,999 regular-season wins, 4,134 losses and five ties. The Astros are moving to the AL West next season, creating three divisions of five teams in each league.
Carlos Marmol (3-3) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the win.
The Cubs, who haven’t won the World Series since 1908, went 61-101 for their most losses since dropping 103 games in 1966.
METS 4, MARLINS 2
MIAMI — Ike Davis hit his 32nd homer and Scott Hairston got his 20th to help New York win its season finale.
Jeremy Hefner (4-7) closed the season with his second consecutive strong start. He allowed two runs in 7 1-3 innings.
The Mets (74-88) finished fourth in the NL East for the fourth straight year. The Marlins (69-93), touted as playoff contenders after an offseason spending binge, instead posted their worst record since 1999.
Hairston reached the 20-homer milestone for the first time. Andres Torres hit his third homer.
New York’s Lucas Duda was hit in the back of the helmet by a 79-mph curve from Dan Jennings in his final at-bat. Duda walked to first but was then taken out of the game.
Miami’s Jose Reyes swiped second base in the sixth to reach 40 steals for the fifth time, and the first time since 2008.
Rookie Tom Koehler (0-1), making his first major-league start, gave up three runs in six innings.
ROCKIES 2, DIAMONDBACKS 1
PHOENIX — Jeff Francis earned his first victory in more than a month and Colorado used two unearned runs to beat Ian Kennedy to conclude disappointing seasons for both teams.
Francis (6-7) allowed a run and five hits in five innings in his first victory since July 27. He had gone 0-3 in six outings since then.
Third baseman Chris Johnson’s throwing error in the fourth led to both of Colorado’s runs. D.J. LeMahieu singled in a run for the Rockies.
A.J. Pollock hit his second big-league home run for Arizona.
Kennedy (15-12) gave up no earned runs, striking out eight and walking none. He was 4-0 in his previous six starts.
Matt Belisle got the final out in the ninth for his third save in 10 tries.
DODGERS 5, GIANTS 1
LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw finished with a major league-leading 2.53 ERA, Adrian Gonzalez singled in the go-ahead run in the sixth inning, and Los Angeles ended its season a day after being eliminated from playoff contention for the third straight year by San Francisco.
Kershaw (14-9) allowed one run and three hits in eight innings, struck out eight and walked three in his 33rd start, tying a career high. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner recorded 229 strikeouts, one behind NL leader R.A. Dickey of New York. The left-hander became the first pitcher to lead the league in ERA in consecutive seasons since Arizona’s Randy Johnson in 2001-02.
Kershaw became the first Dodgers pitcher to do so since Sandy Koufax accomplished the feat from 1962-66.
Gonzalez finished on a 15-game hitting streak, longest on the team he joined from Boston on Aug. 25. He drove in Andre Ethier, who doubled, with two outs to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. They tied the game 1-1 on Kershaw’s RBI single in the fifth — the Dodgers’ first hit off Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong, who also retired his first 10 batters.
Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth to earn his 26th save in 32 chances.
Clay Hensley (4-5) gave up one run and two hits in one inning to take the loss for the Giants, who open the NL division series on Saturday against Cincinnati.
Giants catcher Buster Posey went 0 for 2, finishing the regular season with a .336 average to claim the NL batting title. He’s the first Giants player to win it since Barry Bonds in 2004 and the first Giants catcher to do so. The last catcher to win the NL title was Boston’s Ernie Lombardi, who hit .330 in 1942.
PADRES 7, BREWERS 6
MILWAUKEE — Chase Headley drove in two runs, finishing the season with an NL-leading 115 RBIs for San Diego.
Headley doubled home a run in the fifth inning. He hit an RBI triple in the seventh and scored the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly by Yonder Alonso.
Travis Ishikawa drove in four runs for Milwaukee, including three with a double in the third that made it 6-0.
Headley also drew two walks and finished with a .286 batting average. His previous RBIs high was 64 in 2009.
San Diego improved by five wins this year and wound up with a 76-86 record. The Padres won only five of their last 15 games.
The Brewers went 83-79, a drop of 13 wins after reaching the NL championship series last year.
Since Aug. 20, Milwaukee’s 29-13 record was tops in the majors.
Cameron Maybin hit a two-run homer for San Diego, and five relievers held Milwaukee hitless in the final six innings.
Tommy Layne (2-0) pitched 1 1-3 innings for the victory and Luke Gregerson earned his ninth save. Jim Henderson (1-3) gave up two runs in the seventh.
CARDINALS 1, REDS 0
ST. LOUIS — Rookie right-hander Shelby Miller took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in his first career start and Matt Carpenter had a run-scoring single for St. Louis.
The Cardinals, who won 12 of their final 16 regular-season games, clinched the second NL wild card spot Tuesday and will face the Braves in Atlanta on Friday.
Cincinnati, which has won four of seven, takes on NL West champion San Francisco in an NL division series beginning Saturday.
Miller gave up a two-out bloop single to Wilson Valdez in the sixth to end his no-hit bid. He struck out seven, walked two and allowed just one hit over six innings.
Reds starter Homer Bailey, who threw a no-hitter at Pittsburgh in his previous start, tossed four shutout innings, allowing four hits. He struck out six and did not walk a batter.
Carpenter drove in Shane Robinson, who singled off Jonathan Broxton (3-3) to start the rally in the eighth inning.
Victor Marte (3-2) picked up the win with one inning of relief. Jason Motte recorded his 42nd save in 49 opportunities, tying him for the most saves in the NL with Craig Kimbrel of Atlanta.